An Interview with SteveSongs

by Amber on February 9, 2010

SteveSongsI was excited to finally get the chance to talk to one of my heroes in the children’s music world: Steve Roslonek of SteveSongs. I must admit that I’ve been a fan of songs like No Good Toys and The Pirate Song since before I was a parent.

But we’d never been out to see SteveSongs live until Ivan came along. And a SteveSongs show is really something. I talked to Steve about his live performances and he agreed that there’s something special about performing live. “I don’t know what it is about a live show,” he said, “but it’s different. You can watch a movie or listen to a CD and it can be a positive experience, but there’s something about a live show that is just more real and immediate.”

As SteveSongs grows in popularity so do the sizes of his shows, but Steve still manages to produce shows that are focused on the kids. He admits it can be harder to connect with individual kids during a large show, but that just makes each personal touch more important: “The more big shows we do the more I like the time afterwards when I can meet the kids. It’s not as easy to listen to what they’re saying when they’re yelling up to the stage during the show. So it’s nice to have the time to meet the kids one-on-one.”

A SteveSongs show is always impressive and special—definitely something to see! And one thing that makes them so special are the Sensational Sillies, so I began by asking Steve about them…

Boston Children’s Music: I wanted to ask you about the Sensational Sillies…

Steve: Like “Are they really sensational?” (laughs)

BCM: They are sensational. But I don’t know much about them. I don’t even know their names…

SteveSongsSteve: There have been a number of kids who fill that role at different times, but in the last year or two it’s primarily been Mariel Ross and Linnea Ross; They’re sisters. I’ve been totally blessed and very lucky to have found kids that are both fun and super performers.

BCM: How old are they?

Steve: Mariel is 14 and Linnea is 12.

BCM: That’s pretty young—and they’re so professional.

Steve: They are, but they’ve always been that way. I started working with them three years ago when Mariel was 10 and she had a solo at the Kennedy Center. And I remember thinking that she didn’t even seem to notice that there were like 600 people out in the audience. She didn’t have a nervous bone in her body. She just loves doing it.

BCM: I think they really add to the spectacle of the show. And your shows really are spectacular. What I’ve always loved about a SteveSongs show is that there is a grandness to it, but it’s also very personal.

Steve: Thank you very much! That’s what we’re aspiring to. We want to be professional enough, but still maintain that personal element. The thing I love about live shows is being able to interact with the kids—the unpredictableness of it—but then you worry that the professionalism might fall apart. You need to have enough elements that are totally planned out and produced well while still leaving room for elements that are very spur of the moment.

BCM: Like when kids shout out requests?

Steve: That can get a little messy. And I hate to not do a request. What we did at our last show at the Regent was play a medley of some of our older songs so we could still feel comfortable playing new songs and not leave anyone out.

BCM: How do you work with the audience and get them involved and excited?

Steve: One nice thing about the performance not being scripted is that you can gauge the audience and try to customize what you’re doing. You can also plan your set based on the venue. If we’re in a theater where everyone is sitting, like the Regent or TCAN, then it’s nice to start with a listening song, like Giant. In other venues where not everyone has a seat, like at a school gymnasium, you need to start with a real participatory song just to get everyone focused on what you’re doing.

For theater shows I like to start with Marvelous Day because it’s mostly listening, it introduces the band, but there’s an interactive echo part in the middle, so the audience can see that the show is going to be lively and they are going to be asked to do stuff.

A nice second song would be something like The Pirate Song or She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes. They’re nice interactive songs but everyone can stay seated.

If the audience is older, then you can throw in some longer story songs with less participatory parts, but typically it doesn’t feel right to have more than two of those types of songs in a show.

BCM: So it sounds like a lot of thought goes into setting up a live show.

While on the one hand I’m always amazed that I am able to do this for a living, on the other hand I can’t really see myself doing anything else.

Steve: Probably not as much as there should be! (laughs) But yeah, you have to be aware of your audience. As audiences get larger it can be harder to know what everybody wants, but there’s still an energy and you can feel if you need to speed things up or slow things down.

It’s kind of like being a parent: You need to stay at least one step ahead of the kids. You need to know where they want to go. I’ve never been one to feel that things have to go a certain way. I don’t want to make people do something they don’t want to do.

BCM: Do you feel that there’s an educational component to all of this—beyond the messages in the songs—something that kids learn from attending live shows?

Steve: I think there is something hugely valuable in attending a live performance. It can be a fantastic exercise in learning social skills, for example. For kids, so many of their experiences are new and it’s great to expose them to something like a live music performance where there is some structure to it, but there is also some spontaneity as well. Learning to organize and balance that in their heads is a great social interaction exercise. Then you add music to the mix, which is something that is just magical and completely uplifting, plus kids are both listening and singing along so they’re participating in the creation of the experience.

I think the best interactive songs have specific movements or dances that are expected, but also leave room for the kids to play with the dancing or singing and throw in their own interpretations, so that they can feel like they are both part of the group but also individuals.

BCM: I also wanted to ask you about your DVD…

Steve: Yes, I know everything about it. (laughs)

BCM: The Marvelous Day video is shot at the Robbins Farms Park in Arlington. I was wondering how you chose your locations?

Steve: I worked with a director who is from Arlington (David Padrusch, owner/director of Mad Rush Pictures, Inc.), and that one location was always at the top of the list. It worked out perfectly for the Marvelous Day video because there’s a huge a playground and we could shoot some scenes there, but also, we had over a hundred kids and some might be shooting a scene while others were not, and if they weren’t working, they could go and play.

BCM: Was the DVD a lot of work?

Steve: Yes. Extraordinarily. There’s just so much content on the DVD—we just kept adding more and more. It was a lot of fun.

BCM: And what about the videos you shoot for PBS Kids?

SteveSongsSteve: Yes. I’m one of the hosts in between the morning shows. But some of the music videos are also shown at other times during the day. And the Music Time with SteveSongs CD are all songs from the first season of interstitials that we did.

BCM: And so that’s why this CD is called “Volume One”?

Steve: Yes. We’ve already finished the songs for volume two. The volume two songs are currently on rotation on PBS Kids this season. And we’ll start writing songs for next season very soon.

All of the songs needed to be exactly a minute long for the TV spots, but we recorded some of the longer versions, up to a minute and a half, for the CD. It’s very different than any CD we’ve put together—and I think there’s something nice about an album in which you can listen to eighteen tracks in thirty-five minutes.

It was a very fun and challenging writing assignment—it was like a writing workshop where you had to take out anything that wasn’t needed. Many of these songs, if we had been writing them for an album, we would have done them in different ways. We’d start with a concept and we’d feel like we needed at least two minutes to introduce it lyrically, elaborate on it, then come out with the resolution. It was definitely a challenge to get everything down to one minute.

BCM: Like haikus for songs.

Steve: Right.

BCM: What do you think is the best feedback you’ve ever received from a kid?

Steve: “You’re better than princesses!” (laughs) Another time we were shooting a little promo for the DVD and had a bunch of kids watch it then asked them on camera afterwards what was their favorite part of the show, and one of the kids said, “the popcorn.”

BCM: Do you ever feel amazed that you’re able to do this for a living?

Steve: Always. Almost every day—at least once a week.

Although, I would say that while on the one hand I’m always amazed that I am able to do this for a living, on the other hand I can’t really see myself doing anything else.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jennifer February 12, 2010 at 8:58 pm

We LOVE Steve Songs :)

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